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Book Review: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns


Walking down a different slope
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, June 7, 2013 14:35
Tags : The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns | Khaled Hosseini | And The Mountains Echoed |

There is little doubt that Khaled Hosseini is the most widely read Asian writer of our time amongst  both literary geniuses and pulp fiction writers. I mean as this review goes to print, as many as 40 million copies of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns have left shop shelves. The pirated copies would inflate this figure several times over. But has this popularity brought desired acceptability for Hosseini? It is tough to tell.
Had it been someone else, someone not as fancy as an Afghan in a post 9/11 world, I am sure the top-notch critics on both the sides of Atlantic would have dismissed him as a pulp fiction writer with the pretensions of a literary genius. Even something as brilliant as Kane and Abel did not bring much deserved respect to Jeffrey Archer, though that too bordered on serious literature at least in content, if not in style. But Hosseini is not to be pushed around. But neither are the critics. Therefore, the British resorted to euphemism. Suddenly, almost overnight, “great storyteller” became the operating word. A sort of unspoken deal was reached. And they all lived happily thereafter.

So, when I finished reading And The Mountains Echoed, the first thing that came to my mind was is this Hosseini’s chance to enter that elite club? Here was a writer who was never afraid of using formula if it helped average readers in exploring a litle known subject. It appeared he did not give two hoots about style till it served the purpose of letting the readers know what Afghanistan is. Yet, with And The Mountains Echoed Hosseini looks more desperate to command respect from the critics rather than the readers who were squarely on his side. That is why, And The Mountains Echoed is very different from both his previous books.

The book, for example, starts with a bedtime story told by a poor Afghan father in 1952 about a poor farmer who had no choice but to give away his favourite child to a giant Div in order to save the others. On the face of it, the story appears to be a common fable, a variation of which is told in every country. But in the very next chapter, you suddenly realize why the fable was used. The father next day sets off with son Abdullah and daughter Pari to Kabul, where to everyone’s horror, the father gives the girl away to a wealthy couple: the Wahdatis.

In fact, Pari and Abdullah, beloved brother and sister, form the core of the story. So when Pari is sold off, the tone of the story is set immediately.

“But there was no forgetting. Pari hovered, unbidden, at the edge of Abdullah’s vision everywhere he went. She was like the dust that clung to his shirt. She was in the silences that had become so frequent at the house, silences that welled up between their words, sometimes cold and hollow, sometimes pregnant with things that went unsaid, like a cloud filled with rain that never fell,” writes Hosseini as the tragedy unfolds.

But it is here that Hosseini defies formula and the expectations and creates a different narrative. The brother and the sister are forgotten as the narrative shifts to another pair of siblings in a nearby village. We are taken to the year 1949 and the relationship between the two is explained at length, only to be dropped in the next chapter. You sense a Murakami and Puig here but all the characters here return, and return in style.

From here, the story travels across the continents and decades and brings in a myriad of characters all of whom are very realistic. It is through these characters that Hosseini weaves the story of love, betrayal, separation, human apathy and reunion. Needless to say, subjects like homosexuality and guilt, which are favourites of Hosseini, are also explored, but in a manner that is stylistically very different from how they have been used in the previous novels.

This while the journeys take us from small, dusty villages to Kabul; from Paris to San Francisco; and even to the Greek island of Tinos. The last one is reserved for some unexpected turns in the story. When the climax finally comes, it brings loads of emotion; mostly leading to sobs and bawling. But that is probably the only formula, which Hosseini resorts to. Everything else is refreshing. And that is why, in spite of having the same setting and the surrounding, the tone of the book makes it distinct.

And The Mountains Echoed is definitely a product of a learning curve for Hosseini. I hope his readers took the same route.

Author: Khaled Hosseini

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-9-3829-5100-1

Pages: 416

Price: Rs. 599

Publisher: Bloomsbury

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017